Ursino remains closed; property tax ruling pending

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By: Redina Demushi | Published April 28, 2016

Looking inside Ursino. Photo: Y. Smishkewych

Hey, what’s going on inside Ursino? Photo: Y. Smishkewych

Ursino, Kean’s fine-dining restaurant open to the public, remains closed, but a ruling for back property taxes of $53,915 is still pending.

According to the university, Ursino closed last September “temporarily for remodeling,” and was scheduled to reopen by the end of the fall 2015 semester.

Meanwhile, a ruling has yet to be made on the tax litigation between Gourmet Dining, which operated the restaurant, and Union Township over taxes on the Ursino property.

State property does not pay taxes to towns, and since it is on state university property, Gourmet Dining contends it does not need to pay property taxes on Ursino. But Union Township argues otherwise.

“State owned property cannot be taxed to the state of New Jersey,” Paul Parsons, Union Township Tax Assessor, stated. “However, when the state of New Jersey leases the property to a for-profit entity, then that entity, in this case Gourmet Dining, can be taxed.”

According to Parsons, the restaurant was given back the tax exemption status as of Jan. 1 and is not currently being assessed since the property is no longer being utilized.

“If it reopens as another restaurant, from the moment it opens up, I will be taxing them again,” Parsons said. “If it opens as a dining hall for Kean University students, I will not be taxing it.”

In 2011, The Kean Foundation, which usually deals with scholarships, entered into a contract with Gourmet Dining, which runs Ursino.

Ursino opened in 2012 and received a “worth it” rating in the New Jersey dining section of the New York Times.

The swanky eatery offered entrees that cost from $23 to $32 for dinner, with starters like kale salad for $13 and main courses such as Long Island crescent duck at $30. One dessert, chocolate hazelnut pot de crème featuring shaved dark cholate, whipped cream and short bread, was $11.

Judge Joshua Novin, of the Tax Court of New Jersey, reserved decision to review the two motions on the Ursino property after the hearing that was held last summer. “He hasn’t indicated to us when he’s expecting to make a decision,” said Robert Renaud, the attorney representing Union Township.

The amount of time that has passed since Ursino closed its doors has people wondering whether or not the restaurant will be reopening and when that can be expected.

“An announcement about Ursino is forthcoming soon – hopefully in the next two weeks,” Susan Kayne, vice president of University Relations, said in an email on April 11.

A recent visit showed activity inside the restaurant: At least five people were observed talking at a table that had several laptops and paper work on it, a commercial grill in kitchen was alight, and bus tubs containing cutlery and utensils sat alongside glassware and stacks of dishes and on several tables on the first floor.

On the second floor of the restaurant, approximately nine flat boxes labeled “WS42-P”—of which one was open—sat on a table near the window. A subsequent Internet search of this label returned it as a model number of a wall-mounted wine rack.

No additional information was available by press time. Future updates can be found online at kutower.com.

Separately, The Kean Foundation now plans to open an Au Bon Pain restaurant in the North Avenue building that would also be open to the public. The building is set to open this summer.

Yuri Smishkewych contributed to this story.

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